Due to deviations in the building’s original layout, each room has a bespoke quality.

jails across the country. Over Zoom, Cartwright points out one particular door taken from the old Wandsworth jail.

What were the initial challenges, then? Most, according to Cartwright, were structural. The building was riddled with damp after being roofless for 70 years. The walls, in part, were over a metre thick so cutting through them without potentially causing lasting damage was tricky. Numerous tests and surveys were conducted to measure the walls and ceilings of each individual cell, but they couldn’t always account for the deviations in historical design. The prison has already been subjected to numerous makeovers by ruling monarchs, each of whom looked to tweak certain elements in terms of structure and layout. “Each room has a bespoke quality. You come up with a design and produce a set of technical information, and then once you start reinserting the walkways and get access back to the upper floors, you find that what you thought was going to be the case is not quite the case,” Cartwright explains. “You’re not talking massive differences, but it means that you’ve then got to adapt [to that] information as you’re building.”

Shedding light on history A crowning feature of the project is a translucent skylight that sits four storeys up and is supported by load-bearing walls connected to the old jail cells on either side. To ensure the structural integrity of the building, thick black columns were placed either side of the main atrium with triangular steel sections dropped by crane onto the roof and fixed into shape to support the skylight. “We wanted to try to preserve and enhance what’s already here and that’s why we kept the skylight,” Cartwright says. “We didn’t put a solid roof back on so that you still got a naturally lit, almost continental feel


to the atrium. The walkways that you can see are the original prison walkways, which would have been used to access the jail cells.”

Additional problems crept in. Loose rubble derived from a local housing estate built within the compound in the mid-1990s had piled up and needed to be excavated without damaging the building’s exterior. The local wildlife continued to roam around the compound, with rare species of local bats and birds circling the prison. Up to nine species of bat, including greater and lesser horseshoes and the miniature pipistrelles were using the ruins as mating and roosting sites. These invasions halted the building work as specialist handlers had to be brought in to ferry the animals off the premises to protect their ecosystem. In a fitting turn of events, the bats even got their own bungalow beside the compound. Despite these challenges, Cartwright is satisfied with the final project, which is scheduled to open its freshly coated doors this summer – complete with 70 bedrooms, a restaurant, bistro, alfresco dining space and a cocktail and gin bar. It is, he says, a remarkable structure with slices of its macabre history left uniquely exposed. “There’s this kind of austerity to the building, particularly when you’re on the outside of it, because the windows are very small and the walls are very tall,” Cartwright says. “You have an external wall around it, the jail wall, so it’s very imposing. But when you get inside, you have this cathedral-like series of spaces, which is really calming. In the evening it’s really tranquil, but then you reflect back to its former use as a prison. It has that strange mix of emotions.” Guests travelling to Bodmin this summer will be eager to relax and enjoy their newly acquired post- lockdown freedom. After feeling imprisoned for so long an old 18th century prison is a fitting place to toast newly acquired liberties. ●

Hotel Management International /

Bodmin Jail Hotel

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